Defensive Aggression Shows in Statistics

Former Vikings coach Mike Tice liked the saying, "you live by the dog (blitz), you die by the dog." But so far, Mike Tomlin's defenders are living like kings by using the dog.

The hits keep coming … and so do the turnovers.

The Vikings' aggressive approach to defense continued last week in Seattle and the Vikings show no signs of letting up.

So far, the Vikings defense has created seven interceptions – two for touchdowns – while both of its fumble recoveries were recovered at the goal line for touchdowns.

"I don't think we've ever had that in one full season, so it's great and I just hope that we can keep tacking it along," said linebacker Ben Leber, who has been part of both the forced and received ends of the fumble recoveries.

Against the Lions, he was the recipient of a Pat Williams sack and stripped ball that Leber recovered at the goal. The next game, Leber's sack and strip of Seattle QB Seneca Wallace led to Kevin Williams recovering the loose ball in the end zone.

"We had called that play (against Seattle) a couple of times already that game and really nothing happened," said Leber, who put a move on running back Maurice Morris to get a clear shot at Wallace. "When you're that close to getting a touchdown or pushing them back, you're always thirsty. You're hungry. Somebody is eager to make a play.

"It was just the right protection for us. They just slid the backs to me, and I was able to get around them. Sometimes they protect it a little different, and you can't get there."

Two defensive touchdowns against Detroit helped put the Vikings over the top in a 26-17 win, and the Leber-Kevin Williams combination in Seattle helped seal a 31-13 win and erase any hopes of a Seahawks comeback.

"I'd like to be able to rely on a defensive touchdown every week and I'm kind of getting reliant on it here at this point," said head coach Brad Childress, who has gotten three defensive touchdowns in the last two games.

It hasn't gone unnoticed by Monday night's competition either, as it appeared Patriots coach Bill Belichick could nearly recite the Vikings' opportunistic plays on defense.

"They knock the ball off, knock those strip sacks off," he said before reciting the defensive successes of Mike Tomlin's players this season. "They got one against Carolina. They scored once, twice against Detroit. They got another one against the Bears. They got him back there in the end zone, they intercepted that one, (Antonie) Winfield for a touchdown. They knock the ball off of you in addition to being in the backfield, and then turn it over and then they're standing there in the end zone celebrating or they're laying on the ball there in your territory and now your offense is coming in on the 20-yard line. That's why they lead the league in defense (rush defense, at least). They're tough. They're well-coached. Good players. Play hard. It's a good defensive team."

First, the defense proved it was better than last year's version with a different system and different coordinator. As the players became more comfortable with their assignments, moved up the rankings and limited opponents, turnovers eventually became a point of emphasis.

They started by learning the basics of Tomlin's Tampa-2 philosophy in the off-season camps. The process began by keeping the "menu small," according to Leber, learning the basics before throwing in some blitzes off of the base defense. But back in mini-camps and training camp, the players had no idea that Tomlin would become this aggressive later in the season, according to Leber.

"It kind of took me by surprise, and it didn't take me very long to see that he likes to put pressure on the quarterbacks and likes to get after it," he said. "I think that's kind of uncharacteristic a little bit, I think, of a regular Tampa-2, but I love it. I love what he's doing."

So do the statistics. In the first three games of the season, the Vikings produced three sacks. Over the next three games, they had 12. Over the first three games, they had two interceptions. Over the next three games, they had five.

The surprise aspect of the Vikings defense is probably over. Opponents likely have a better idea of what to expect from Tomlin, and his next challenge will be trying to sustain their initial success despite a growing familiarity as their tendencies are put on film each week.

Opponents know they will be getting a staunch run defense, but Leber thinks the 18th-ranked pass defense is a product of teams getting behind and needing to throw the ball more often later in games.

"A lot of those numbers are kind of skewed. I really kind of just look for the yards per attempt. I don't know what that is, but hopefully that's pretty low. As long as we just keep getting after it, we're not worried about the statistics."

Incidentally, the Vikings are eighth in passing yards allowed per attempt and, not incidentally, they will probably continue "getting after it."

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